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Re: [ox-en] Maussian ideas and Free Software

On 13 Dec 2003 at 0:35, Stefan Merten wrote:

Firstly thanks for all those informative emails just posted there now
- very interesting. Some points:

* Money spent on third world pharmaceutical drugs is far better spent
on providing clean drinking water and decent nutrition. I know it's
trendy to bash big business for cynical sales, but in the end far
more lives are saved by forgetting about pharmaceutical drugs.
However, there's an interesting problem here because as food
production has outpaced population growth, the fact there is a third
world at all is purely POLITICAL. If we chose to, we could wipe out
90% of all poor people within a generation - instead, the gap between
rich and poor continues to widen which is obviously unsustainable.

* I have no problem with genetic engineering per se - it could be
extremely useful. I have a BIG problem with the total lack of
safeguards on how it's developed right now - we're not playing with
toxic chemicals here, a mistake here propagates through nature within
months and years and we could unleash the next black death on one of
our staple food crops. It doesn't cost too much more to add stringent
safeguards, but unfortunately politicians are looking at
bioengineering as the next computer revolution :(

main reasons - if not *the* reason - for participation in Free
Software is that people want to give back if they have received so
much. One key argument is that people feel indebted if they only
receive without giving anything back. As a result there is some sort
of gift exchange.

We had quite some discussion about that point. After all in Oekonux we
see Selbstentfaltung as the main reason and at the moment I have no
idea how feeling indebted can be thought of as being a part of
Selbstentfaltung. Of course the question came up whether there is some
kind of (Christian) guilt concept behind that whole idea. This has
been denied, however, by the persons who knew a bit about Mauss.

It looks like I'll be agreeing with Matthias. If you look into
Gregory Bateson's anthropological study of his New Guinea tribe, it
has more on this. Probably Mauss will have taken this into account.

How does Free Software work? By people exchanging software they have
invested considerable time in creating. Why do they do that? Because
exchange is at the heart of community. Does guilt drive exchange? No -
 people who are unable to contribute do not feel bad about not being
able to do so - you never see anyone *ever* claim that producers of
free software are superior to those who use.

I think what does drive exchange is a sense of mutual benefit. While
for many it's a case of good karma (eg; myself), I have noticed that
many other takes a purely selfish view - to contribute my work to the
communal pool benefits me. How is that possible?

Also a counter argument was that a gift only makes sense if it is a
scarce thing you are giving.

This is completely wrong. Exchange only works when the thing you are
giving is worth less to you than what you're receiving, otherwise
you'd hoard it - this is how trade began, produce a surplus and
exchange for something you don't have. Software can be copied for
zero cost, therefore a major traditional stumbling block for exchange
& barter is removed ie; software is only amenable to exchange
precisely because it's not scarce. It now becomes purely whether it
does you good for other people to have what you have too - you lose
nothing physically by sharing.

First, personally I do not like the idea that anybody feels indebted
or obliged to anyone if s/he uses Free Software I have written. This

I would disagree with that - too often you get people barging into a
free software project's mailing list and demanding things be done for
them as though a consulting service contract had been purchased. A
good strong dose of indebtedness does no harm there. Perhaps I'm
thinking more of respect.

Also, I think you are mistaking the indebtedness for applying to
people. I don't think users of free software feel indebted to the
authors of that software but rather to a more abstract notion of
balance. In my own case, I contribute free software because I built
it on top of five or so other free software libraries - however what
I build on top of my library will be commercial. It seems only right -
 just - that this should be so - even discounting other benefits like
distribution of debugging effort.

All nature works first in a spirit of cooperation, then competition.
It's why Darwin has been so damaging, especially in the USA because
people think that he who wins is superior. That's a very simplistic
view - just to survive is to win and as we know in Europe, the small
enterprise is the economic heart of our economy. Small business tends
to work via a large lattice of cooperation which is provably much
more efficient than large hierarchical structures as typical within a
large company. Therefore in my mind, we should stop subsidising big
business and let real market rules take effect - perhaps we might
solve third world poverty in doing so.

If you were to investigate biology, you will find that innovation
comes from complexity - here I mean complexity to mean quantity more
than complicatedness. Therefore it makes sense that sharing source
greatly increases complexity and thus potentially greatly increases
innovation. This is why I feel most closed source software is bad in
every single way possible and anything preventing the reuse of
software is also bad.



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